What IT staff can do if the CEO gets an iPhone

Editor’s Note: This story is reprinted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

With hundreds of thousands of iPhones flying off the shelves in the U.S. in the last three weeks—and numerous Apple stores reporting renewed shortages of the popular device —chances are good that IT staffers will be asked sooner or later to get an iPhone working on the corporate network. Given that Apple has a reputation for making consumer-focused products that—at least in the past—didn’t always play nice at work, most IT managers are likely skeptical of letting iPhones on their networks. Even without enterprise purchasing plans, a real keyboard and slow EDGE network speeds, the sheer form and function of this revolutionary piece of technology may soon have your management team pushing you to evaluate it for mass deployment.

Whether that new iPhone is company property or was bought by rogue employees, don’t panic. By following a few easy steps, IT staffers might find that iPhone can make their lives easier—and your colleagues (or boss) ecstatic:

Lock down the iPhone

If your employees are going to be accessing corporate assets, you will want to activate the four-digit lock/unlock code. That way, if the phone is lost or stolen, someone else won’t be reading your corporate e-mail. The passcode is off by default, but it’s easy to turn on. Go to Settings -> General -> Passcode Lock and have the user enter something easy to remember. It isn’t Fort Knox, but it’s as good as a garden-variety BlackBerry/Windows Mobile device and will keep out most intruders. Also, make sure the sleep time is set to something low like the one-minute default. Not only will this keep the iPhone safer, it will save some battery time.

Get a protective case

Spend the $20 needed to get a slick but supportive case that will actually be used. Remind your iPhone-totin’ workers that they are basically carrying around a fragile, $600 piece of technology that is one drop or slip away from being worthless. More importantly for you, by retrofitting the iPhone with some physical protection, you can avoid having to do all the paperwork, restoration and configuring of a replacement iPhone should breakage happen.

Set up that phone/visual voice mail

Oh yeah! This is a phone after all. Take a few minutes to set it up and explain the visual voice-mail feature and save yourself support calls in the future. The nonlinear voice-mail layout remains one of the most unsung features of the iPhone and one of the supposed justifications for keeping it locked to AT&T. The true advantage arises when a significant number of calls have gone unanswered—with some calls almost invariably more important than others. With visual voice mail, calls are laid out in e-mail-like fashion, allowing the user to listen and respond to the more important messages first—just like you’d do in e-mail. This feature offers a strong business case for using the iPhone over BlackBerry/Windows Mobile, so you’ll want to make sure users actually take advantage of it.

Use software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications like Basecamp or Salesforce.com

These types of apps really shine on the iPhone and are growing in popularity, exist only in “the cloud” (on the Net) and take advantage of the AJAX-capable browser features that iPhone rivals lack. Perhaps this is why Steve Jobs is so adamant about trying to spur development of Web 2.0 iPhone applications. Help out your users and pop any needed SaaS-worthy URLs into the Safari browser bookmarks—assuming they haven’t already been transferred with the bookmark sync in iTunes.

Make your webmail server easy to access

You have an Exchange server or Web Access to e-mail/calendar/address book? Of course, you do; just about everyone does. The easiest and most secure way to giveaccessto your corporate messaging is to go to Safari and bookmark your Webmail server. This will basically give your iPhone user the same interface, albeit in slightly shrunken form, that they get when they use a browser to access an Exchange (or other groupware) server on foreign computers. This should be a very familiar task with an easy learning curve.

That’s the bare minimum for most users to get by for now. But if just getting by is not enough, there’s more you can do to make your iPhone owner a good corporate citizen.

• Configure Mail. As an e-mail client, the iPhone’s Mail application is visually stunning and very capable for a smart phone, especially with HTML-formatted e-mail. If you have your IMAP or POP3 server open to the Internet (which has obvious security risks), you can configure the Mail application to check e-mail using the standard settings. Safer yet, use IMAP over SSL/TLS to connect. Just make sure you open up Port 993 on your firewall. You might even be able to get your paranoid Exchange administrator to turn on IMAPS, as long as you can prove that it is safe. One thing to note is that you’ll have to use your own SMTP server, since AT&T’s won’t work when the iPhone is using Wi-Fi. And in case you’re wondering, for those times when you’re using the EDGE network to send e-mail, AT&T recommends using cwmx.com without a username and password. Just plug it in under Settings -> Mail -> Account -> Outgoing Mail Server.

• When it comes to calendar and contacts syncing, the iPhone only syncs that data through iTunes. If you trust your users to use iTunes, then adding this capability isn’t a huge leap, and enabling it just requires a visit to the user's iTunes preferences. More than likely, the iPhone will someday be able to pull addresses from an LDAP database and calendars from a WebDAV server like the full Mac OS X counterpart applications can. Until then, iTunes-less corporate users will have to use the iPhone Safari Web browser to check calendars and contacts.

• If your company has a public intranet, bookmark it in Safari; most likely it will work properly unless it relies on ActiveX or Java. If it is inside a PPTP or L2TP/IPSec VPN, you’re in luck, as the iPhone supports these protocols. However, since there is currently no way to get a certificate onto an iPhone, you will need to use a shared secret key. If you use the popular Cisco PIX VPN, hang tight—Cisco support is rumored to be on the way. Future updates to the iPhone will also most likely allow employees to browse protected internal servers for files, which will make the VPN all that more important.

• With Wi-Fi, the iPhone can access most open, WEP- or WPA-protected wireless networks. But without the ability to supply a username and password or certification, it will not be able to access 802.1X wireless networks. I’d expect this to be addressed in a future release. Wireless networks are almost as imperative as the AT&T EDGE speeds are slow for the broadband-addicted.

• Apple’s Maps application, which relies on Google Maps, may be the slickest application of the bunch for both driving directions and as a reference tool. The traffic maps monitor is a godsend to commuters and will likely save them travel time when trying to find that new client headquarters ahead of a big presentation. As a bonus, set up the Weather application to all of the locales important to your users. Then show them the Calculator, alarm clock and stock tracker.

• When it comes to backups, all of the iPhone data is stored through iTunes. That means a user or sysadmin can set up an exact clone in minutes if the iPhone is lost or stolen. It doesn’t hurt to point this out to the users who will no doubt be very upset if they lose or break their precious equipment. It also doesn’t hurt to make a backup of the user’s backup in case both the computer and iPhone are lost or damaged.

• Finally, have some fun. Get yourself an iPhone so you’ll know how best to support this thing. The iPhone is an amazing piece of technology that is changing the face of wireless communications. Oh, and if you have any additional questions, do what you tell your users to do: read the manual.

My point is that you don’t need to fear the iPhone. Embrace it. Of course, it’s going to be a costly hug, given that Apple isn’t likely to make a play for your corporate dollars by offering discounts, special service plans or privileges that consumers don’t get. But it doesn’t need to. The iPhone is a seductive device that is incredibly easy to activate, set up and use—whether you are at home or work. Chances are, some of your office mates and the workers you support already know that firsthand. And that means, sooner or later, you’ll need to know it, too.

Seth Weintraub is a global IT management consultant specializing in the technology needs of creative organizations, including The Paris Times, Omnicom and currently the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile. He has set up and managed cross-platform networks on four continents and is an expert in Content Management Systems and large-scale PC and Macintosh Infrastructure.

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